Posts Tagged ‘lesson plan’

Our teacher ranger , Rob Finkill, is back again for the summer at the Park, after a busy school year with his 8th grade students. . This summer’s blog series will tie into the National Park Service’s theme of  Civil War to Civil Rights  a theme that focuses on the experience of Americans journeying from slavery , freedom , and equal protection under the law. Our first post will focus on the Emancipation Proclamation and the experience of African Americans who will join  into the service of their country and the success and challenges that were a part of their story.


A Call to the Citizens of  Pennsylvania!

When word spread through Pennsylvania in the early summer of 1863 that a “large rebel force” was heading north, Governor of the Commonwealth, Andrew Curtin, issued a call for volunteers to report to Harrisburg to defend the state.  The proclamation from the governor said nothing about the color of the volunteer’s skin.

Meanwhile, the city of Philadelphia was abuzz with the news and groups of volunteer soldiers were forming to respond to Curtin’s call for troops. The African American community was not deaf to the call for volunteers. At the Institute for Colored Youth on Lombard Street, a company of African American soldiers was being organized. On June 17,  led by a young teacher named Octavius Catto, a group of around 100 African American volunteers headed to Independence Square to join the crowd of emergency recruits. With no questions asked, the company was given a commander (white of course), rifles, and uniforms and sent to Harrisburg by train. Here is where reality hit these men. Major General Darius Crouch, commander of the troops forming in Harrisburg, refused to take them into his army. He claimed he was only authorized to accept men who signed up for three years, whereas their emergency regiment was only signed up for a few months. The volunteers were outraged – Couch’s rejecting of able bodied men at a time of crisis on a technicality, was almost certainly done because of the color of their skin. But the men from Philadelphia would not be deterred. Upon returning to their city , a group of the soldiers went to the mayor and told him what had happened. The Mayor assured them an application to create a 3 year regiment had been sent to Washington, D.C. and by June 20, 1863 , orders arrived giving permission for a regiment to be formed in Philadelphia. On June 24, in a ceremony filled with speeches and patriotism, the African American men from Catto’s company would be the first troops placed in the United States army from Philadelphia. Soon their numbers would grow to form several regiments as a part of the United States Colored Troops. *

 *Paradis, James M. Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States Colored      Infantry in the Civil War. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1998.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

National Archives

National Archives


By the summer of 1863, the United States, on paper was accepting the services of African American men into the army, but as these men found out , there is often a difference between what is on paper – in this case a proclamation – and what was going on in reality. Actions spoke louder than words in this case and that phrase could certainly be used as a unit or lesson theme about the experience of African Americans during the Civil War. Adapting your Civil War unit to different themes or “big idea” can help.  Covering all the many aspects of the Civil War can be a challenging task. As I have discussed in previous posts, many teachers face a time crunch when teaching a Civil War Unit. (see a previous posts for a suggestion on how to maximize your time) The African American contribution to the war is an important one, and these lesson ideas will hopefully provide you with ideas on how to incorporate the experiences of the United States Colored Troops in your lessons.

In this post we will try to provide activities and resources that will:

  • focus on the central idea (theme)  that actions speak louder than words;
  • allow student to understand the provisions of the Emancipation Proclamation;
  •  show how to tie the teaching of the Emancipation Proclamation and the experience of the United States Colored Troops together.


A problem to solve

When discussing the Emancipation Proclamation with students, it’s important to spend a few moments providing its context. As the war opened in 1861, the war was to be fought to keep the Union together and President Lincoln had stated he had no intention of disturbing slavery where it already existed. It was a limited war, with limited goals. The situation changed quickly as slaves and other abolitionist military officers took it upon themselves to either free themselves by running away to Union  lines or by issuing orders that freed slaves in territories controlled by Union forces (which Lincoln quickly cancelled out). Visit the Fort Monroe National Monument page for a quick overview on these issues and the “contraband of war” including what General Benjamin Butler did when a slave owner came to his office demanding the return of his “property”.  President Lincoln knew he would need a Constitutional amendment to end slavery completely, but what if slaves were looked at as captured property such as a horse or a wagon? The Union  certainly wasn’t returning captured horses and wagons  – those are the “spoils of war”. Slaves were viewed as property under the law and their “capture” could only serve to help the Union war effort as many slaves were being used to support the Confederate war efforts. Any slave who was returned to a master could be helping the Confederate cause and that helped Lincoln to be able to justify his actions regarding slaves in the Emancipation Proclamation, but not all slaves were freed. In the border states of Maryland, Kentucky, West Virginia , and Delaware, slavery would continue. In this case Lincoln used the law that said slaves were property to help form is rationale for the Emancipation Proclamation.

What it says on paper: the Emancipation Proclamation

Sometimes with a class of students  with diverse reading abilities , it is easy to shy away from having students work with primary source documents such as the Emancipation Proclamation. There are many resources to help a teacher reach students at their level. This activity will pull from several free resources available online.

Here is a basic plan:

  1. Ask students to think of examples of times when “Actions Speak  Louder Than Words” in their lives . Give them time to think and then discuss some as a class.
  2. Describe how we are  going to see how words produced by the government don’t really mean anything until we as citizens put them into action or take actions based on the provisions in those statements.
  3. Go over a basic definitions of the terms “emancipation” and “proclamation
  4. At this point , provide the students with a copy of the Proclamation or key portions of text.
  • The Civil War Trust provides an excellent series of documents and lesson ideas for an understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation .  Page 4 in the document linked to below gives a very useful breakdown of key portions of    text from the Proclamation complete with definitions of terms.
  • Gettysburg National Military Park Education Page  also has materials designed to help with understanding of the Emancipation Proclamation. Page 34, 35, 36 of the Unfinished Work Program Guide provide  focusing questions and the text of the document.

The Unfinished Work Program guide from GNMP

Civil War Trust Emancipation Proclamation Activity (middle school level)

  1. Use this graphic organizer to help students break down the Emancipation Proclamation and the key provisions of it. Make sure students indicate the portion of text that supports their findings.

  Student graphic organizer

Teacher graphic organizer

  1. After determining what the Emancipation Proclamation stated, have student explore what it looked like when the African American men and women served their country. Use this organizer to help student take notes on challenges and and successes of African Americans during the war.

Here are several different resources to pull information from:resources-icon-an-orange-sign

Reaction to the Battle of New Market Heights in September 1864. Adapted from the Civil War Trust website.

This reading describes reactions to the United States colored troops in battle and describes the bravery and accomplishments of several of the soldiers who fought in this battle

Teaching With Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War

from the National Archives

This site contains a series of activities and primary source documents to use in the classroom . This activity has a letter written by a Southern officer and a Northern officer describing  when an African American soldier  was captured by the Southerners. I have included a transcription of the cursive text.

Transcription of letters
Biography of Christian Fleetwood from civilwar.org 
Medal of Honor Winner from the Battle of New Market Heights

Video : Black Soldiers in the Civil War from the Civil War Trust 4 minute video on the United States Colored Troops

Harriet Tubman during the Civil War Tubman was more than a conductor on the Underground Railroad



As always adapt this activities to your classroom situation  – the Civil War Trust and Gettysburg National Park have the same activities for elementary and high school classrooms. Also , think about what type of closure or follow up activity could be done from these lessons. Share ideas and comments here.



Student Educational Programs are offered here at Gettysburg National Park in the spring and fall. The Unfinished Work program ties in with the Emancipation Proclamation and the Gettysburg Address!


Resources for Lesson:

Graphic organizers:

Emancipation Proclamation Student graphic organizer

Emancipation Proclamation  Teacher graphic organizer

Note Taking chart on successes and challenges of African Americans in the Civil War

The Unfinished Work Program guide from GNMP

Civil War Trust Emancipation Proclamation Activity



“Battle of New Market Heights: USCT Soldiers Proved Their Heroism.”

Civilwar.org. Civil War Trust. Web. 15 June 2015.

Fort Monroe and the Contraband of War.” NPS.gov. Fort Monroe National


Paradis, James M. Strike the Blow for Freedom: The 6th United States

    Colored Infantry in the Civil War. Shippensburg, PA: White Mane, 1998.


Next in our series we’ll take a look at the Reconstruction Amendments….

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As we continue preparations for the Richard Bartol, Jr. Conference for Educators at the end of the month, Teacher Ranger Rob Finkill begins a series for teachers who cannot attend the conference, but that focuses on the same types of primary source document comparisons… this one between the Declaration of Independence, and a speech delivered by Frederick Douglass on the meaning of the Fourth of July to the enslaved population.

Recently on July 4th,  Americans  celebrated our nation’s  birthday.  Fireworks, picnics, and hot dogs of course played a major part in those celebrations. It has also been a time for citizens to celebrate the ideas and principles of the Declaration of Independence. Americans, throughout our history, have interpreted our founding documents in different ways. The Fourth of the July is a great chance to look at the Declaration of Independence and how Americans have interpreted its meaning.

4th of July   The Declaration of Independence is, obviously, a great primary source for students to analyze. Another interesting primary source activity would be to look at how its meaning has been interpreted and used over the years by citizens of the United States across multiple generations.

Making a connection

The debate over slavery in the United States led to specific uses of the meaning of the Declaration (and the Constitution for that matter ) by both African-American and white abolitionists. No where is that demonstrated more clearly than in a speech given by Frederick Douglass on July 5, 1852 called “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”.

This speech and the Declaration can help students site specific evidence of how the principles and beliefs contained in the Declaration of Independence helped give hope to African Americans in Antebellum America and the movement to end slavery.

DOI l  Start from the beginning

Before looking at the Frederick Douglass speech, students should understand the principles found in the Declaration of Independence that focus on the rights that African Americans and abolitionists were fighting for.

Have students look at the first section of the Declaration of Independence and support a simple claim statement:

Here is an example:

The Declaration of Independence states that people have the right to freedom and a government that protects their rights.

Students can use the Google Document below which contains a portion of the first section of the Declaration along with a student friendly version for lower level readers.

Declaration of Independence Text

Have students use the graphic organizer below to organize their thoughts. The organizer has a section to include a “concrete detail” (specific fact) and space for students to make their own supporting details about the text they select.

Detail and Supporting Details Graphic organizer


douglassFrederick Douglass’s Fourth of July Speech

Many experts consider this the greatest American abolition speech ever. Douglass himself stated that he worked as hard on this speech as any he ever did. The speech was given on July 5, 1852 in Rochester, NY. Interestingly enough, some abolition groups and some African American communities in New York had taken to holding Fourth of July ceremonies on the 5th of July as a protest. In 1852, the debate over slavery was growing. The Fugitive Slave Act, as a part of the Compromise of 1850,  had caused much resentment in the North and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe had recently been published, bringing the reality of slavery to parlors all over the country.

The speech itself is very long (it took over 90 minutes to deliver), so having students look at the entire speech may not be practical. The speech can divided into three parts:

Full Text of the Speech

Part 1 : History of the Declaration and the Founding Fathers

Douglass summarizes and praises the Founding Fathers and the Declaration.

Part 2: Slavery in America

After almost soothing the audience, he delivers his own feelings on the 4th of July and how a slave might view it, using irony and symbolism in many cases.

Here is a well known portion of the speech found in Part 2:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Part 3: Hope for the Future

It is easy to focus on the words of Part 2, and forget that Douglass shares in Part 3 that there is hope for our nation based on the principles found in the Declaration of Independence.

I have taken portions  of the speech  that relate to the Declaration and included student friendly versions for lower level readers  and placed them on a Google Doc whose link is found below. This may help make the speech more manageable in a class period or two.  You may want to create questions for students to answer from each section; just have them read it and discuss, or even make a wordle word cloud (click to see one) for a quick summary.

Click for a Google document with portions of the speech and student friendly versions of those portions.


making connectionsMaking connections between the speech and the Declaration of Independence

“No one used the principles of the Declaration so forcefully as the abolitionists, particularly black abolitionists. Without those principles at the founding (of our nation) blacks would have had no where to look for a future in America.”

-Historian and Author David Blight

Students start the activity by examining the principles of the Declaration, so after reading  the speech students can be asked to:

  • Support the statement by the historian David Blight by siting specific examples where Douglass references the principles in the Declaration.

Here are a few examples:  belief in natural rights, equality, liberty, right of revolution

This question could relate directly to a Common Core goal for Social Studies (grades 6-8):

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

Other ideas

  • Look for examples of irony and symbolism in the speech and explain.
  • Put yourself in the crowd that day, how would you have reacted?
  • Why does Douglass use pronouns of “you” and “yours” extensively?   What message is he trying to send the audience?
  • Use Douglass’s argument for a modern issue “What to the _______ is the 4th of the July?”



Independence Daze: A History of the 4th of July Pod Cast from Backstory.org

(Backstory with the American History Guys is an excellent podcast resource.)

Edusitement lesson plan : Launchpad: Frederick Douglass: What to the Slave is the 4th of July?

Reading Frederick Douglass from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities


Comment and share more ideas on the speech

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